Indian scientists resurrect World War era drug to fight malaria

The researchers at Jawaharlal Nehru University have found that the acriflavine or ACF used as an anti-parasite drug during last century, is effective against malaria parasite and are, therefore working to make this molecule more effective using nanotechnology

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By Jyoti Singh

New Delhi: A neglected and old anti-parasitic drug used during the World War II is emerging as a new weapon in the fight against malaria as malaria parasite becomes resistant to currently available drugs.

A group of Indian researchers have resurrected acriflavine or ACF which was used as an anti-parasite drug in the last century, and have found it to be effective against malaria parasite. Now they are working to make this molecule more effective using nanotechnology.

Researchers at the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have got a patent for antimalarial properties of ACF. They have now joined hands with scientists at the National Institute of Immunology (NII) to develop a nano-formulation of the dug and to study its potential in animal models. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is funding this joint effort.

Prof Suman Dhar (extreme right) with research team
Prof Suman Dhar (extreme right) with research team

ACF was previously used as a trypanocidal agent against a range of infections during World War II. But due to preferential use of chloroquine for treatment of malaria, its antimalarial activity was never investigated. “It was used as an antibacterial and anti-parasitical agent but it was not known as antimalarial agent. We have found that it is effective as an antimalarial molecule also,” said Prof Suman Dhar of JNU. “We believe nanoformulation of ACF will help release the molecule slowly into the host. This will increase its stability, and it will be then conjugated with specific antibodies to make it more specific.”

The researchers have already shown that ACF inhibits the growth of both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of human malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. It was also found to clear malarial infection from bloodstreams of mice infected with Plasmodium berghei. In addition, they have found that ACF is preferentially accumulated in the parasitized red blood cells.

Chloroquine and pyrimethamine, which were used as primary chemotherapeutic drugs, are of little use now since the parasite has developed resistance to them. Though there is a decline in global burden of malaria continues to be a major health problem in many countries. Recent reports of resistance to artemisinin, the only effective antimalarial drug at present, are causing concern among health agencies globally.

The team of researchers includes Prof Suman Dhar from Special Center for Molecular Medicine at JNU; Dr Jaydeep Bhattacharya and Dr Deepak Gaur from School of Biotechnology at JNU; and Dr Agam P. Singh from NII, New Delhi. (Indian Science Wire)

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